Rich religious history exists in Hyderabad

Natives and tourists, including students from Missouri Southern, peruse stores in the large shopping district near the Charminar in Hyderabad´s Old City.

Allison Rosewicz

Natives and tourists, including students from Missouri Southern, peruse stores in the large shopping district near the Charminar in Hyderabad´s Old City.

Hindu-Muslim conflict has a far-reaching past in India. In the past century, that history has been quite evident in Hyderabad.

The city’s population is now only about one-third Muslim, but 70 percent are concentrated in the Old City, where much of Hyderabad’s rioting has taken place. The events leading to this population shift, as well as other historical factors, have led to religious, political and economical strife between the Hindu and Muslim communities within the city.

Gooty Venkata Kavitha grew up in the Old City and was 14 years old during the riots in 1990-91 in Hyderabad. She said such violence is the result of misunderstandings between religions.

“It’s not a question of who you are,” she said. “It’s a question of religion.”

Today, Hyderabad is enjoying more than a decade-long stint of relative peace, but its communal history will continue to haunt the city.

Hyderabad experienced its worst communal rioting in the winter of 1990-1991. Three periods in the city’s 20th century history, beginning in the 1920s, led to this violence.

According to Javeed Alam, professor of political philosophy and social theory at the Central Institution of English and Foreign Languages, not much conflict occurred between Hindus and Muslims during the 19th century.

“They lived side by side; they lived in peace,” he said. “But there was no particular warmth between them.”

In 1923, Hyderabad saw the first instance of communalized Hindu feelings with the formation of the Aryasmaj Party. The party played upon the discrimination Hindus felt in a Muslim-majority state. Around this same time, Muslim political forces were also developing in India. For example, the Muslim League started organizing during this period, and officially formed in 1935.

The disagreements between such parties wreaked havoc for more than a decade, causing the first riot in 1938 in what is now the Old City of Hyderabad.

Alam called this “a rupture that turned into a long time of confrontation.”

The situation worsened in the 1940s. Hyderabad had been under feudal rule for more than 150 years. During the 1940s under Nizam’s rule, the Telangana Movement had simultaneously developed against Nizam, promoting the Indian democratic movement.

The Telangana wanted Indian nationalism. Nizam’s Razakar army, made up of mostly Muslims, brutally murdered many Hindus of the Telangana. After India’s independence in 1947, Nizam eventually lost sovereignty, and the Congress party of the central government forced him to sign into the union.

Before this time, Muslims occupied nearly 80 percent of the jobs in Hyderabad. Following the change in government, there was a huge retrenchment of Muslims by 1949.

Since 1952, when the country’s new constitution was written, India’s government has implemented reservation – reserving seats in government schools and government jobs for scheduled castes and tribes.

Today, for example, 21 percent of these are reserved for scheduled castes and 7.5 percent for scheduled tribes. Throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, reservation continued to aid the rise of the Hindu scheduled castes and tribes, and in turn, many Muslims again lost jobs.

As a minority, they were not protected or obliged like the Dalits. Bigotries against Muslims were also activated. Some Muslims had at one time looked down upon the backward castes that sometimes were servants for Muslims. This caused a sense of animosity from the Dalits, and when they started to mobilize, the tables turned on the Muslims. This again caused dissension between the Hindu and Muslim communities.

“So the communal situation kept worsening in Hyderabad,” Alam said.

Also during this time, in 1978, Hyderabad experienced another communal riot. The tension centered on Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s declaration of a national emergency.

In 1975, when Gandhi made this declaration, she basically became the dictator of India. She did this during an economic crisis in which she thought the people were turning against her. The case of this emergency went to court, and Gandhi was imprisoned for a year and a half. She had recently been reelected, but her election to office was declared null and void.

In 1977, elections were held again, and Gandhi lost to a coalition of parties known as the Janata Party, which fought among each other. These events helped cause the riot in 1978.

All of these previous occurrences paved the road for Hyderabad’s worst communal riots in the winter of 1990-1991. A combination of these bitter memories, along with India’s long history of fighting between Hindus and Muslims, culminated then.

In addition, Hyderabad saw two parties pitted against one another in 1990 and 1991. Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen still had a stronghold in the Old City, while the Bharatiya Janata Party (of the Hindu Right) had won an election for the first time in Secunderabad, Hyderabad’s twin city.

Gooty and her family, Hindus, lived across from a Muslim mosque during the riots. She said each day a microphone was used at the mosque to call young Muslim men to attack the local Hindus. On one occasion, her family was a target, but they were rescued.

“They could have killed us; we don’t know,” she said. “I was so tense with fear.”

Their neighbors, who were Muslim, rescued Gooty’s family. Gooty said this is an example of the kind of coexistence religions must practice in order for India to become more peaceful.

The criminal element also contributed to the violence. For example, Sardar and Majid Khan, two men who were considered criminals in the Muslim community but were important nonetheless, were murdered in October 1990 and December 1990, respectively, due to communal tensions.

Another factor that makes the riots of 1990 stand out is their difference from previous ones. In the past, a “scoreboard” pattern of killing had been used between Hindus and Muslims – the riots ended when they believed the killings had been balanced.

But in this violence, more than 20 people were brutally murdered each day for more than a week, many of them teenage women. While the killing of Muslims was generally spread out during these riots, about 75 percent of the murdered Hindus were killed on Dec. 8.

Another difference that occurred was the type of Muslim property that was attacked. Homes and shops were once the targets, but larger businesses were destroyed this time around. And new parts of the city, where the Muslim middle class resided, were targeted. This suggests that the lower classes were no longer the sole participants in communal riots – political influence had brought in higher classes as well.

When the military entered during the riots, Gooty said a curfew was imposed. People could only come out of their homes a couple of hours a day. She said this made life even more difficult.

“During the curfew, everyday essentials were more than double price,” she said.

These riots left more than 150 dead and more than 300 seriously injured. More were killed in “non-communal” individual arguments and police fire.

Since the end of the worst riots in 1991, Hyderabad has been experiencing a period of relative peace. Not even the destruction of the Babri Mosque in 1992 or the recent violence in Gujarat could incite large-scale riots in Hyderabad.

Both the Hindu and Muslim communities of the city have come to a general understanding that the fighting has no kind of positive outcome. Both communities are also doing fairly well economically in Hyderabad.

“The generation now isn’t like the generation then,” Gooty said. “We have a different mindset, different culture, different everything.”

As long as Hindus and Muslims continue to coexist and prosper together, Hyderabad has a good chance for continued peace.

“Upward mobilization has created a tacit understanding of not being interested in communal riots,” Alam said.

With state and national elections coming up in 2004, however, the city could stand at a crossroads.

If either community falls victim to communal propaganda, this period on nonviolence will be threatened. In order to maintain its peace, Hyderabad cannot forget its history.